A writer’s act of faith

I’m closing in on finishing my fifth novel … by which I mean, closing in on the point where I say I’ve done all that I can do and send it to betas. This is by no means the end of working on this book, you understand. There will be revisions based on beta feedback, then revisions based on my agent’s feedback, and–should she choose to put it on submission–revisions based on editors’ feedback. Never mind what happens if someone buys it.

But all that is looking very far ahead. Right now I am finishing up the just-me, in-a-vacuum version of it, and I have learned a lot.

This book’s beginning is an amalgamation of two other beginnings that didn’t work out. One was 8K words, the other 25K. I took the heroine from the 25K one and mashed her with another heroine from another 20K failed start, and put her with a new hero. This start got to 18K words before I gave up.

Then I took the hero and heroine and inserted them into the situation from that 8K start, which segued into an unwritten idea I had pitched to a few other writers two years ago. Aha. Now we are getting somewhere.

The story moved from the Whiskey Rebellion to the Canadian fur trade. The characters’ route changed from a northerly one to an easterly one. I spent weeks researching city layouts, manners, military situations, domestic artifacts, fashion, slang, and reading travelogue after travelogue. History is a hell of a lot of work.

But after 30K words in third person, it wasn’t working. So I stopped, and rewrote it in first.

Then it had legs.

I knew, by this point, the rough shape of the book. I knew who would marry whom, who would die, who would love and procreate, and whose hearts would break. I knew the final scene of the book, which is huge. And I wrote all that down, with some interstitial stuff to hold it together. The results was an 85K word story that I hated. I put it in Time Out.

After a month of recovery, I set to a heavy rewrite of what I had. It took months. Whole scenes were thrown out. Whole new scenes were written. I despaired. I didn’t like it. I skipped nights of work because I just Couldn’t. But dammit, I rewrote that thing to the end, and I put it in Time Out again. It was 104K words this time.

And then something happened. I couldn’t leave it alone. It was put away less than a week before I got it out again and began to read that second draft … and found that I liked it.

I had a book I liked. O, frabjous day.

I am rewriting that book now. It’s much less of a slog than the previous rewrite–it’s going to take me maybe a month all told, and the length of the thing isn’t changing. But I finally have emotionally compelling characters to deal with. I have some themes that are played out through some action and dialogue. I am still throwing out sections of scenes. I am still writing some new stuff. But I like it. No, maybe I love it. Parts of it. Maybe … just maybe … even though I didn’t breathe this book onto the page fully formed (the way I thought I had breathed my first novel), it will have been Worth It.

Maybe my magic isn’t gone.

Maybe I’m just older and wiser. Maybe I’ve learned which spells work and which don’t. Maybe I’ve learned to tighten my writing and ass-kick the story into motion. Maybe I’m self-conscious now because I’m writing to please others … no, that is definitely the case, and it’s unfortunate, but there it is.

But I’m going to have a book I like. And I had to work for it. And for the longest time, I didn’t like it. Sometimes I hated it. I wanted to throw it out the window and re-read my old stuff, the good stuff, back from when I knew what I was doing.

Turns out I still do, just differently.

And that, my friends, is the supreme act of faith that is writing (and rewriting) a novel.

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3 thoughts on “A writer’s act of faith

  1. It sounds to me like you’ve grown a lot as a writer. It’s a painful process. But honestly I think that the first book that gets the hard edit treatment is what changes writers the most for the better. I know for me, it forced me to see my book in twenty new ways, to understand that what I thought first was not necessarily what was best. One scene in particular took me six re-writes from scratch. It needed to be shorter, but I’d written it very tightly, so I couldn’t just cut. I had to redo every time, losing a couple hundred words each rewrite. In the process, I learned how to condense, to trust the reader to get it without spoon feeding. 8000 words to 1200. Most importantly, I learned I could do it.

    I think that’s the real key to editing. You learn what you are capable of. In my case, I learned I can always fix things, make them tighter. In yours, looks like you’ve gained a lot. I think that’s awesome. Many give up. You didn’t. Seriously, well done you.

  2. Friends would say to me “you should write a book” – and as a psychiatric nurse, and as an English woman transplanted from Northern England to Northern Michigan via London, Toronto, Detroit and Saginaw, I certainly have lots of stories. But I know myself, and I know I don’t have the discipline to become a true writer. I have read many self published books, but yours are that rare thing – a writer who really knows her craft. I could say more, but as the previous comment says – enough is enough.

    • You can and do knit whole sweaters on the regular, so I don’t believe you don’t have the discipline. Rather, the wisdom to spare yourself the unholy torment of being a writer. Or something. They take away my Hemingway card if I don’t say things like that. Also whiskey.

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